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Prime Minister blames Opposition for spreading ‘falsehoods’ about 20A



No attempt made to reduce powers of Auditor General or remove PM’s Office or Presidential Secretariat from AG’s purview

 Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, yesterday, denied allegations that the Auditor General’s powers would be reduced by the proposed 20th Amendment.

pm Rajapaksa said that Constitutional provisions regarding the Auditor General had hardly come to public attention and thus the opposition was using that lack of knowledge to propagate various falsehoods.

Rajapaksa said that one of the main false claims was that the 19th Amendment had created an Audit Commission and that the 20th Amendment sought to abolish it.

The PM said in a media statement: “What the 19th Amendment made provision for was not an Audit Commission but only an Audit Service Commission. The Audit Service Commission does not carry out any auditing functions. It handles matters like the appointment, promotion, transfer and disciplinary control of members of the State Audit Service. Usually such matters pertaining to government servants are dealt with by the Public Service Commission. All that the creation of the Audit Service Commission achieved was to set up yet another Commission to do the work that was being done by the Public Service Commission.”

“Another false claim being made by the opposition is that the 20th Amendment seeks to remove the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Prime Minister from the purview of the Auditor General. From the very inception of the 1978 Constitution, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office have been under the purview of the Auditor General. The phrase “all departments of government” in Article 154(1) of the pre-19th Amendment Constitution brought the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office under the purview of the Auditor General, he said. These institutions were always listed as government departments in the Government Financial Regulations. Quite apart from these two institutions, even the Office of Former Presidents is listed as a separate government department and all these institutions were always audited by the Auditor General.

“The inclusion of the Presidential Secretariat and the Office of the Prime Minister by name in Article 154(1), by the 19th Amendment did not achieve anything new. Even though they may have not been specifically mentioned by name, from the very inception of the 1978 Constitution, the Presidential Secretariat and Prime Minister’s Office had always been under the purview of the Auditor General. Even after the 20th Amendment reinstates the old article 154(1) which existed from the inception of the 1978 Constitution, in place of the so called ‘changes’ made by the 19th Amendment, the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office will continue to remain within the purview of the Auditor General. Over the past decades, it’s the Auditor General who audited the Presidential Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Office and not some private audit firm.

“Another falsehood being propagated is that state owned companies will be removed from the purview of the Auditor General by the 20th Amendment. However the auditing of state corporations and state owned companies (i.e. companies in which the state owns more than 50% of the shares) comes under Article 154(2) of the Constitution. Under the provisions of Article 154(2), the minister in charge of the subject can assign the auditing of a state corporation or a state owned company to a qualified audit firm.

“However before doing so, he is mandatorily required to obtain the concurrence of the Finance Minister and also to consult the Auditor General. After the minister in charge of the subject assigns the auditing of a state corporation or a state owned company to an audit firm in this manner, the Auditor General can issue a written notice to that audit firm informing them that he proposes to utilize their services for the performance and discharge of the Auditor-General’s duties in relation to that state corporation or state owned company, and thereupon that audit firm is mandatorily required to act under the direction and control of the Auditor-General.

“The content of Article 154(2), which existed from the inception of the 1978 Constitution, was not changed by the 19th Amendment. The content of Article 154(2) will not change under the 20th Amendment either. Therefore it can be said that the content of Article 154(2) has remained the same from the inception of the 1978 Constitution and will continue to remain so in the future as well. Hence the claim that state owned companies are to be taken out of the purview of the Auditor General, is a complete falsehood.”

“It is also being claimed by the Opposition propagandists that the 19th Amendment has stipulated that the Auditor General should be a ‘qualified auditor’ and that when the 20th Amendment reinstates the old pre-19th Amendment Article 153(1) this qualification requirement will be dropped and hence, after the 20th Amendment is passed, even an unqualified person can be appointed as Auditor General.”

“Constitutions are written on the assumption that those reading it will have basic common sense. The Constitution does not state anywhere that the person appointed as Attorney General or as a Supreme Court judge has to be a qualified lawyer. But those appointed as Attorney General, Auditor General or a Supreme Court judge will always have the required educational and professional qualifications without which they cannot function in those positions. All that the 20th Amendment seeks to do is to replace the changes made to the provisions relating to the Auditor General by the 19th Amendment with the provisions that existed before the 19th Amendment. The opposition has been unhesitatingly uttering every lie that comes to mind with regard to this matter because of the confidence that most people would not be familiar with these obscure provisions of the Constitution. It’s our duty to understand the facts of the matter and to defeat the unprincipled attempt being made by the opposition to mislead the people.”



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CB Governor: Lanka now in a position to pay for essentials



‘Inflation will not be as high as initially expected’

Inflation will not be as high as initially expected and there are signs of economy stabilising, Central Bank Governor Dr. Nandalal Weerasinghe says.Dr. Weerasinghe said that during the past few months a number of initiatives had been made to improve the economy and they were yielding the desired results.

“During the last review, we thought the inflation would reach 70%. However, now we believe that the inflation will not be that high even with the electricity tariff hike,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe said that the severity of the shortage of foreign currency had lessened. The country was now in a position to import fuel, gas and medicines.

“This has become possible because of the decisions we took. Imports have decreased. Export revenue has somewhat increased. Even without short-term loans we have been able to meet our basic needs. This is a positive development,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.The CB Governor said that inflation driven by demand had lessened because the expansion of loans had been curtailed.The supply side inflation too would drop with price and foreign exchange stabilisation.

“Still the inflation is about 60% and that’s why we need to maintain the current high policy rates. Once the government adjusts the fiscal policy, tax, and presents the new budget, things will improve. I think you can also see this. We are seeing positives,” he said.

Dr. Weerasinghe also urged exporters to bring back the foreign exchange earnings, and that the Central Bank had taken steps to ensure that exporters abided by the CB regulations.

“The irregularities due to open accounts, hawala and undial are being controlled and the black market premium is dropping. The foreign exchange liquidity in the banking sector has increased,” he said.

The Governor added that negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had made good progress. An IMF delegation was expected to visit Sri Lanka by the end of August to reach a staff-level agreement.After Sri Lanka reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF, it had to start engaging with its creditors on debt restructuring.

“Once we reach an agreement with the IMF the situation will improve further,” he added. (RK)

(See related stories in the business section)

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CID arrests Mervyn 15 years after he forcibly entered Rupavahini



By Norman Palihawadana

Former Minister Mervyn Silva was yesterday arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for forcibly entering the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) and attacking some employees there in 2007.On 27 Dec. 2007, Silva and his associates entered the SLRC premises and assaulted its news director for not airing a speech he had made in Matara.

SLRC employees held Silva incommunicado for hours, and the police intervened to secure his release. A few weeks later, some of the workers involved in the incident came under goon attacks.Mahinda Rajapaksa was the President at the time.

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Aeroflot affair: flights yet to resume; MP questions status of probe into detention of SU 289



ByShamindra Ferdinando

Sri Lanka hadn’t been able yet to convince Russia to resume Aeroflot flights and tourists from there to Sri Lanka suspended in the wake of the detention of SU 289 at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) on the afternoon of June 02, authoritative sources said.

Sri Lanka grappling with an unprecedented foreign exchange shortage desperately needs tourists from an important destination like Russia, which earlier accounted for a sizeable share of the incoming traffic. Responding to The Island queries, sources said that relevant authorities were in the process of looking into the issue at hand.Having summoned Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Moscow Janitha Abeywickrema Liyanage soon after the incident at the BIA, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning over the incident.

In the wake of the Russian warning, the then government took measures to lift restrictions imposed on the aircraft that was to be detained till June 16. The detained SU 289 was allowed to leave on June 06.Former Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera yesterday (18) told The Island that no holds barred investigation was required to ascertain the truth.

Lawmaker Weerasekera said that the government should inform the Parliament of the progress of the investigation and what steps it intended to take as well as measures already taken to mend relations with Russia.

The retired Navy Chief of Staff said that those in authority should investigate whether a court ruling issued in respect of a case filed by Ireland-based Celestial Aviation Trading Company Ltd., against Aeroflot had been manipulated by interested parties.

It transpired that no sooner High Court Judge, S. M. H. S.P. Sethunge, in the Commercial High Court of the Western Province, Attorney-at-Law Aruna de Silva accompanied a fiscal officer of the same Court to the BIA at lightning speed to deliver the ruling.

Lawyer de Silva appeared for the plaintiff with Avindra Rodrigo, PC, (litigation) of FJ & Saram, leading law firm from the colonial times. The law firm has previously declined to comment on this matter.High Court judge Sethunga is on record as having said that he didn’t order the BIA not to permit Aeroflot SU 289 to take off on the afternoon of June 02.

Attorney-at-Law Dasun Nagasena, Coordinating Secretary to Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC yesterday (18) said that the Justice Ministry recommended action against the Attorney-at-Law to the Chief Justice Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC. Nagasena said that the fiscal officer who served the Justice Ministry had been interdicted, pending further investigations. As regards the lawyer, it would be handled on the advice of the CJ, the official said. Responding to another query, the official said that the Justice Ministry hadn’t been informed yet of the progress of the investigations.

Ports, Shipping and Aviation Secretary K.D.S. Ruwanchandra yesterday said that ministry officials on Wednesday (17) discussed ways and means of resuming Aeroflot flights with relevant authorities, including the Russian embassy. Ruwanchandra said they were hopeful reaching a consensus on this matter soon. The official said so in response to The Island queries.

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) President Saliya Pieris, PC, yesterday said that they could initiate an inquiry only on the basis of a formal complaint. He said so when The Island asked him whether the BASL initiated an inquiry into the lawyer’s conduct in this regard. The President’s Counsel said that normally the BASL wouldn’t launch an investigation into a matter inquired into by the CJ.

At the time of the BIA incident, Prof. G.L. Peiris had been the minister in charge of foreign affairs. Since the change of government, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has sworn in Ali Sabry, PC, as the new minister of foreign affairs.

Russia has pointed out that action was taken against SU 289 in spite of an assurance given by Sri Lanka in respect of regular flights to Colombo.Sri Lankan Airlines in late March suspended flights to Moscow in the wake of imposition of what the airline called operational restrictions in the wake of war between Russia and Ukraine.

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